Some say Tony Zhuta’s marinara sauce is the glue that holds Lake Highlands together. In fact, some customers believe there’s no better venue than Tony’s Pizza & Pasta for a wedding party or a 70th birthday, and there’s no one better to turn to than Tony when your kitchen is being remodeled or life feels too hectic to cook.
After 22 years, Zhuta’s family has grown to include his waitstaff, customers and neighbors. Zhuta might say he has two kids, but everyone knows he really has three — one just has four walls and an oven instead of two arms and legs.
Zhuta’s mother, Amdije, is the “face of this whole place,” Zhuta says. But before the restaurant, Zhuta grew up watching his mother make everything with her hands.
“My dad was a very picky eater, so my mom was always into fresh fruit. It’s how she brought out her love,” Zhuta says. “My mom loves making food like that, and it’s how I learned to cook: with consistency and commitment, no cutting corners.”
Zhuta says that hard work is what he knows, and “family-owned” means dedication.
“Hard work is a part of life,” Zhuta says. “I left college to take care of the family business, and I’ve been here nonstop. … I love this place, and there’s consistently a friendly face here, whether it’s my mom, one of my brothers or my wife. It’s home away from home, except sometimes I’m here more than I am at home.”
But Zhuta has dealt with another concern lately: rumors of his and other nearby businesses being shut down for new development.
“The rumors drove me nuts, because we have customers crying, thinking that they’re kicking us out,” Zhuta says. “People are saying that this building and the strip is gonna be torn down because H-E-B might be coming in.”
Zhuta wasn’t worried about the possibility of having to leave Lake Highlands. He says he recently renewed his lease through 2030.
Zhuta says that the restaurant’s location is prime for business because of the tight-knit community.
“It’s a gold mine,” he says. “It makes [the work] worthwhile, knowing that you’re a part of something.”
The restaurant doesn’t have any official social media platforms, but one TikTok video by @nighthawk reviewing the pizza place received almost a million views and tens of thousands of likes. The caption of the video read, “I will die on this hill Tonys pizza is one of dallas best Italian joints (sic).”
“After that TikTok blew up, we saw a big increase in numbers,” Zhuta says. “Now, there’s a huge wait on weekends, an hour or so, just to sit at a table.”
Sue Gregory and Becky Justus, who drive in from Garland, remember having their first date nights at the restaurant. Gregory says it reminds her of family.
“Growing up, my mother made Italian food, and [Tony’s] is the closest reminder of home since she’s passed,” Gregory says. “Nobody even comes close.”
Justus says the employees “treat us like family.”
Many echo the sentiment.
“We started to know ‘mama’ and her sons well and over time she started to recognize my voice on the phone with take-out orders during the wife’s three pregnancies,” said one customer under a Facebook post seeking local opinions on Tony’s.
Another commenter said Tony and his brother Brad taught her preschoolers how pizza is made, throwing dough in the air and showing them the kitchen.
Lake Highlands neighbors say they simply adore the idea of a family-owned business.
“Love that a small family business has survived in Dallas for so long,” Lake Highlands resident Susan Krasnow says. “They work HARD!! But you didn’t hear it here, because we don’t need the wait for a table to be any longer.”
Tony’s Pizza & Pasta, 10233 Northwest Highway, 214.503.0388